{Review} Catch A Taste of The Forbidden |Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress

I’ve heard so much about this wonderful Dick Lee musical Forbidden City : Portrait of an Empress starring Kit Chan but each time it was staged before, I was out stationed. No wonder then that the hubs and I were really looking forward to finally go to the Esplanade Theatres to catch this well-loved classic and of course to see Kit Chan on stage!


Local theatre goers must have this epic musical as their 2017 Must Do, Must Watch musical and who could challenge that? Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress first commissioned by Esplanade- Theatres on the Bay for Esplanade’s Opening Festival in October 2002 has had a sell-out season at each restaging (in Sept 2003 and 2006).

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Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress is the story of Empress Dowager Ci Xi (played by Kit Chan), her love story, betrayals and struggles, rise to absolute power, even as China was increasingly being ravaged by foreign powers as the Qing Dynasty struggled to retain control of China.

As the musical opened, I could feel the excitement and anticipation rising in the hushed audience. It was almost unbelievable that I was finally watching this epic musical at the Esplanade. The little one who has a love for history was equally in awe, this being his first ‘adult’ musical! Plus, he was eagerly anticipating watching Kit Chan, the singer of his favourite National Day song – Home! What a treat!

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The Empress Dowager CiXi played by Cheryl Tan, Kit Chan and Sheila Francisco depicting different stages of her life.

The musical wasted no time in introducing the Dragon Lady and very soon we were transported into an unfamiliar time when the Emperor’s rule was absolute and his wants were insatiable (including his harem of concubines). As the older Empress CiXi (played by Sheila Francisco ) recounted her life’s hopes, joys, love, disappointments, struggles we were also given a running history of the ebbs and flows of the Qing Dynasty.

Empress CIxi

Forbidden City was a musical treat from the very start. Dick Lee’s beautiful music was equally matched with the excellent vocals of the 2017 cast.

With big shoes to fill, credit must be given to Cheryl Tan who plays the young Yehenara this time instead of Kit Chan. Her voice crystal clear as always, was powerful and captivating. We’ve watched her as Juliet in SRT’s Shakespeare in the Park Romeo & Juliet, as Ivy in Dick Lee’s Beauty World and even as Little Bo Frilly in SRT’s The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and I think this is by far her best musical performance ever. She was calm yet vibrant, playing a more matured heroine this time, putting away her usual more animated and girlish characterisations.

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The young Yehenara (Cheryl Tan) with her hopes so high of finding true love with the Emperor.

Cheryl Tan lifted and refreshed us with her stunning vocals throughout Act One. I think the audience could feel Yehenara’s disappointment and betrayal when the Emperor quite quickly forgot about her after three months of what seemed like a fairy tale love affair. (I was amazed that when one got pregnant by the Emperor, he shelves you!!)

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My favourite has got to be the really entertaining Record Keepers played by Sebastian Tan (Singapore’s favourite Broadway Beng) and Dwayne Lau (SRT’s Treasure Island). They were just the perfect amount of humour and wit! The Record Keepers were brilliant and everyone in the audience adored them… maybe because they added the light-hearted fun in an otherwise depressing storyline perhaps? haha…

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FC_Recordkeepers

I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed that we had to wait till Act Two before Kit Chan came on. Although every part of Act One was enjoyable, I still wished that the talented Kit Chan was on stage earlier and sang more… for she did not disappoint. Her well trained vocals was not only emotive, she commanded the presence only a star like her could. Everyone just could not get enough of her, I know that for a fact.

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Kit made us all feel the deep sorrows a mother (even a Dragon Lady) must have felt for the passing of her child. If there were doubts that Empress Dowager ever cared for anyone, she removed it. How her heart must have broke when Emperor Tung Chih’s life was wasted. I teared as I watched and listened.

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The stage sets were a awesome. Beautiful. Simple yet effective. I especially loved the funeral scene where the stage was opened up to reveal the depth of the really amazing theatre stage of the Esplanade! I had no idea it was so deep… other times when I’ve been to the Esplanade theatres, the productions had never used this to their visual advantage.

Forbidden City is Wey’s first ‘adult’ musical and I was half wondering if he would be able to sit through the 2 hour musical. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried because my 8 year old was totally absorbed throughout. So if you are wondering if your not-so young children will enjoy the musical, I would think so. He was intrigued by the larger than life characters and the story unfolding onstage, the beautiful stage sets and costumes and quite simply the awesome music. In fact, when the musical ended, he actually let out a cry of dismay “Oh?! That’s the end?!!?”; much to the amusement of the people seated around us. Of course, be prepared to answer questions along the lines of : ” Mama, what’s a brothel? Why did the Emperor go there?” ” What disease did he get from the brothel and why?” haha… I took it as a good teaching point moment although I did not quite go into too much details. 🙂

Not all musicals are created equal. It has been more than a decade since Singapore last watched this highly acclaimed iconic made-in Singapore musical and for me, Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress is still as stunning and magical as ever. When you go to see this musical, you will come away in awe at not just the entire production, but an amazement at our local talents.

Don’t miss this amazing timeless musical by local theatre big names or you may have to wait yet another decade for its restaging. Also this may very well be the last time to catch Kit Chan in the role as Empress Ci Xi! If you haven’t already booked tickets, be sure not to be stingy on the tickets, get the best seats for a better view, it’s worth every dollar! I promise! 

Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress plays at the Esplanade Theatre from 8 -27 August 2017. Book Early for the best Category Seats to enjoy the epic musical fully. Tickets available from Esplanade Box Office at https://www.esplanade.com/events/2017/forbidden-city-portrait-of-an-empress, more details at end of post.

Thanks for joining us on SAys! Happy Mums.  If you liked what you read on our blog, please follow us on Facebook for the latest updates.  We hope to see you back again soon.

~ SAys! Audrey

We are grateful for the opportunity to attend Forbidden City – Portrait of an Empress, for the purposes of this review. We were not remunerated monetarily for the review, all opinions and experiences remain our own alone. All photos unless otherwise mentioned are copyright of SRT and were provided for the purposes of this review. All other photos remain the copyright property of SAys! Happy Mums and may not be reproduced without prior notice or written permission given.

About Forbidden City – Portrait of an Empress

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When : 8 to 27 August 2017| Tues – Fri: 8pm | Sat : 3pm & 8pm |  Sunday : 1.30pm & 6pm

Where : Esplanade Theatre 

Duration : Approximately 2hrs (including a 20min intermission)

Ticket Pricing :
Tue–Thu, Evening / Sat, Matinee / Sun, Matinee & Evening
Standard: $58, $78, $98, $118
VIP: $128
Restricted View: $38

Fri & Sat, Evening
Standard: $68, $88, $108, $128
VIP: $138
Restricted View: $38

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{Review} A Night with Shakespeare in the Park | Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare In The Park - Romeo & Juliet

This Mother’s Day we decided to do something different … we had a rather unusual date night at the park, plus Shakespeare. Perhaps it was the thrill and exhilaration of doing something different, it felt fun, almost like a first date (haha)… Yup we were on our way to our very first Shakespeare in the Park at Fort Canning!

The hubs is not an outdoor person and we’ve largely never entertained the thought of Shakespeare in the Park for obvious reasons haha…. Singapore’s humid weather is not for the faint hearted.

Shakespeare in the Park Romeo and Juliet

On a rather unusual date with the hubs 🙂

As a Lit student back in my college days, I’d always wanted to catch a Shakespearean play. Back then, the arts scene was very different. There was markedly less support for the arts and probably less like-minded people committed to the arts. When I arrived at Fort Canning park on Sunday evening, I was really taken by surprise. A large crowd had already  gathered at the Gothic Gate way before 6.30pm! Wow!

Shakespeare in the Park Romeo and Juliet

Huge crowds gathering as early as 6pm, braving the humidity and heat for Shakespeare

It made me feel so proud to see Singapore out on a summer’s night coming for a night of Shakespeare 😉 Shakespeare indeed continues to hold his audience 400 years later!

The long queue to get inside was fast moving and picnic mats filled up the entire grounds quickly. We made our way further towards the right side of the stage seeing that most of the front was already filled. (It turns out that was a very good vantage point as most of the play actually took place on the right! So don’t be afraid to move on in and spread your mats without the squeeze!)

Once we got comfortable, we were ready for dinner before the show. The hubs prepared a really good Caesar’s salad, snacks and grapes while Shirley brought along sandwiches and drinks.  We were ready to kick off those shoes and experience our very first Shakespeare in the Park 🙂

Thankfully, it was cooler than imagined and everyone was all set for a fun relaxed night. The grounds was abuzz with friendly chatter, excited conversations and laughter. Friends catching up, couples hand in hand and families having a good time.

Perhaps the greatest love story ever told, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet needs no introduction. A classic tale of sweet forbidden love, the tragedy of a bitter family feud, SRT’s Romeo and Juliet opened to wild cheers from the audience as the skies darkened and the stars came out to play.

Romeo & Juliet

Set in a somewhat modern day city state, the simple stage was brilliantly done with different small sections separated by stairs and height levels plus a centre stage where Juliet’s bed and tomb eventually would be.

Cleverly designed multi-levelled, multi-sectioned stage

This made for easy change of scenes, zooming in for more intimate private moments (balcony scene) between the two lovebirds and zooming out for large scenes (fight scenes). I liked the clever crack running through across the entire stage, reminding the audience about the opposing feuding families we were about to meet.

Thomas Pang was delightful in his role as Romeo. Energetic, polished and spirited, this handsome Romeo would have caused younger hearts in the audience to fall helplessly in love with Romeo that night. 🙂

Thomas Pang and Cheryl Tan sharing a Romeo Juliet moment

Familiar face Cheryl Tan (who played Ivy Chan in Dick Lee’s Beauty World and Little Bo-Frilly in SRT’s Three Billy Goats Gruff) plays Juliet, with her usual vibrant and animated acting as in her previous roles. I would have appreciated a gentler more demure Juliet than the one at the park that night. But perhaps her characterisation was more in line with the modernity that the production was aiming for.

Juliet on her balcony thinking about her Romeo

Ramesh Panicker was every part the important Capulet patriarch, Juliet’s father, and played his role with presence and formality. One clearly got the sense that he was someone not to be trifled with.

Overall, the strong cast kept the entire audience riveted to the developments on stage which were fast paced and none too draggy.

Do also keep a look out for Edward Choy (Goh Keng Swee ~ The LKY Musical) who plays Paris the disappointed suitor, Shane Mardjuki (SRT’s Hello Goodbye) who plays Mercutio the impulsive friend of Romeo and Benjamin Chow (Lim Chin Siong ~ The LKY Musical/ The Troll in SRT’s The Three Billy Goats Gruff),  who plays Benvolio Montague.

Audiences will not have missed the dramatic accompanying music setting the mood of each scene so precisely. From the romantic scenes of the two young star-crossed lovers to the fight scenes as Tybalt challenges Romeo and then the sense of urgency and shock of Mercutio’s death, the music of Ruth Ling set the tone for the play to perfection. Special mention must also be made about the exquisite costumes designed by award winning Moe Kasim, which gave the play a distinctive modern yet Asian feel especially at the Capulet’s party.

Going to this play made me feel like a hopeful school girl again and brought back fond memories of those carefree college days. I had fun and am thankful for the special company I had that night – my beloved (who isn’t quite a Shakespearean fan)… but said he had a fun night too haha…

I am hopeful that we’ll be able to venture to more park productions if they come by again. However, it is highly likely that this Shakespeare in the Park- Romeo and Juliet would be the last park production for a while (unless a patron sponsor is found soon) so don’t miss out on this very special experience.

The run ends on May 22nd 2016, at Fort Canning, entrance by the Gothic Gate. Book your tickets at SISTIC, show details at end of post.

If you do go, be early as carpark is limited (nearest carpark – Carpark A, 50 spaces) but free at night 🙂 Otherwise, park at Park Mall and make a short walk across to Fort Canning Hill. Also everyone gets there early to get best seats as it’s free seating!

Thank you for joining us on SAys! Happy Mums.  If you liked what you read on our blog, please follow us on Facebook for the latest updates.  We hope to see you back again soon.

SAys! Audrey :) 

We are grateful for the opportunity to attend SRT’s Shakespeare in the Park ~ Romeo and Juliet, for the purposes of this review. We were not remunerated monetarily for the review, all opinions and experiences remain our own alone. All photos unless otherwise mentioned are copyright of SRT and were provided for the purposes of this review. All other photos remain the copyright property of SAys! Happy Mums and may not be reproduced without prior notice or written permission given.

About Shakespeare in the Park – Romeo and Juliet

Romeo & Juliet

Dates: Wed, 27 Apr – Sun, 22 May 2016 @ 7.30pm (Park opens at 6.30pm)

Venue: Fort Canning Park (Located at Gothic Gate at Carpark A)

Ticketing: SISTIC website or call 6348 5555

Ticket Pricing (Excludes Booking Fee)

Romeo & Juliet by SRT

Preview show (27 & 28 Apr 2016) & all Wednesday shows

Picnic:
Advanced Ticket – S$40 (Available until one day before performance)
Standard Ticket – S$50 (Event Day)

*Premium Picnic:
Advanced Ticket – S$58 (Available until one day before performance)
Standard Ticket – S$68 (Event Day)

Pavilion Package – S$85
(Includes a priority queue, a seat, 2 glasses of wine or soft drinks, canapes and souvenir programme.)

Thu, Fri and Sun shows except 1 May(PH)

Picnic:
Advanced Ticket – S$48 (Available until one day before performance)
Standard Ticket – S$58 (Event Day)

*Premium Picnic:
Advanced Ticket – S$68 (Available until one day before performance)
Standard Ticket – S$78 (Event Day)

Pavilion Package – S$98
(Includes priority queue, a seat, 2 glasses of wine or soft drinks, canapes and souvenir programme.)

Sat shows
1 May (Labour Day) and 21 May (Vesak Day)

Picnic:
Advanced Ticket – S$58 (Available until one day before performance)
Standard Ticket – S$68 (Event Day)

*Premium Picnic:
Advanced Ticket – S$78 (Available until one day before performance)
Standard Ticket – S$88 (Event Day)

Pavilion Package – S$108
(Includes priority queue, a seat, 2 glasses of wine or soft drinks, canapes and souvenir programme.)

 *Includes priority queue, a spot in the Reserved Picnic area near the stage and an inflatable backrest.